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  • Writer's pictureJack Martindale

London for lockdown explorers

Travel has always been a most intoxicating passion of mine. As I’ve always had ants in my pants – having an ingrained love of travel – wanting to uncover and explore the world makes complete sense. Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, freedom of movement is naturally one of the things that I most eagerly anticipated. Once (no matter to what extent “if ever?” can at times feel as though the more pertinent question) our lives can at least resemble some existence enabling the exploration of a free world, is one of the things to which I most eagerly await . No matter how much of a privileged statement this in itself may appear, lockdown – of course to varying degrees – has turned all of our lives upside-down.

Going with idioms, I’ll say that ever since I first inhaled London’s air from being born into Islington’s Whittington Hospital (fitting that the Dick that my birthplace was named is after was a fairytale adventurer), I was captivated by the city environment. Like I can imagine with every metropolis, the best and worst of everything if represented. Only I think that I can fully empathise with the sentiment of the modern English language’s earliest novelist Daniel Defoe in holding some truth to the fact that if you’re bored of London you’re bored of life.

Am essence to our capital city’s spicy identity has evolved over thousands of years; from a conglomeration of independent hamlets based around the port of the City of London enabling trade and exploration to the wider world, to a myriad of identities being submerged. To this day, the sprawling communities still retain a robust individual character and their submersion into one another means that there is often a frequent ambiguity as to the same place equally qualifying as accurately being regarded as various names.

If you want some real anorak information you’ve come to the right place. Take where I live; I could refer to it as ‘East London’, Hoxton, Hackney, Shoreditch etc. etc. with all being correct and accurate. The places and their history in terms identification is so entangled.

Until the First World War, London was the only place in the U.K. that bothered with using postcodes. Although I have N (north) 1 postcode, ‘Shoreditch’ (as my location was in the borough of, until they reduced the number of London boroughs in 1965) used to go under NE (north east) category. On street signs such as that of ‘Martello Street’ in London Fields, you can see clear evidence of this. Then everywhere else in the country caught-up and Newcastle understandably claims the NE postcode, 250+ miles from its original location. Fascinating as this stuff is, what I am really trying to get at is just how the richness of London means that geographically defining it is up to such a vast number of interpretations. On a side, for a completely disconnected little fact: did you know that there are no “roads” within the City of London? Well, it’s true. Shove that in your pipe and smoke it, if you don’t believe me… Though the greatest likelihood is that you couldn’t really care less!

London may be vast, but once you become properly familiar with it, you’ll be able to realise is actually far smaller than the world famous tube map as designed by Harry Beck in 1931 implies. This is of particular benefit to me as a non-motorist. Let me be completely honest in disclosing that this is not through choice. I first began learning to drive in 2005 aged 17. I enjoyed it and the prospect of driving is something that I found exciting. Indeed, I seemed to take to it pretty quickly and I felt ready having passed the theory test, to go into enter my first practical examination within about 6 months or so and was apparently going to pass right up until the final 10 minutes of the test.

I was a bit crestfallen, but was fed the all too comforting sounding spiel of “they say that more intelligent people tend not to pass on the first attempt anyway”. Willingly and even arrogantly (I was but very young!), I just quickly entered into another test. Definitely I was guilty on just focusing on the instructor passing me as opposed to specifically addressing a single issue that I needed to work on. This happened 3 more times. My poor instructor was at a loss as to what to do, as he couldn’t find an explanation, based on my general supposed aptitude and confidence behind a wheel and the complication that I always failed for something different. From this, it could feasibly be concluded that I just couldn’t execute everything together. I’d still deem it more likely that I just somehow allow myself to place a tremendous amount of pressure on myself.

It’s a pretty lame excuse to blame it on the fact – that is surely at least half-true of us all – that I hate being told what to do; as am obedient in ashamedly being quite the scaredy cat, in terms of any reprimand. Given the fact that I actually took up the practice again a couple of years later. Of course passed breezed through the theory and soon picked back-up my confidence behind the wheel. I and failed the first practical test that I took. Well I could quickly shelve this piece of information and just not bother to risk that degree of failure again. Of course in relation to other challenges that I have been faced with since, the experience was incredibly small fish to fry. Arrogant as it sounds, it was my first real experience of failing anything that I really wanted to pass. C’est la vie.

This is perhaps why for whatever reason, find it harder to digest in hindsight that at the actual time, where I think that I just took it far more on the chin. The amount of attention and devotion that fall victim to affording it, is far unhealthier. After all, the driving arbitrary examination and I think that any frustration that I have towards it is directed solely at myself; I can only see catharsis as the point of reflecting on this negative aspect of my life in excess of a decade after it happening. I suppose that it is quite a safe and easy space for me to channel any negativity that I am ever feeling towards almost anything.

This attitude is something of an anomaly to my general sense of wellbeing, as I’d still retain that in spite of any traumatic experiences that I’ve had, I feel that I am more lucky than anything else for the way in which my life’s turned out. Bringing the concept of ‘exploring’ from the title back into focus in relation to lockdown2, I feel that sampling the world around you through taking solitary walks, is one of the healthiest ways for me to retain sanity. This piece of writing almost seems like in apt metaphor for my walks in terms of skirting around the edges and going around the houses; there are worse ways of living life in my opinion, as is abrupt as a way of things ending.

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